Renovations, name change bring a new look and feel to Phoenix Raceway

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(Sources: Michelle Minahen/Cronkite News and Phoenix Raceway) (Sources: Michelle Minahen/Cronkite News and Phoenix Raceway)
Construction at the raceway is being done in phases so that it can still host events throughout the renovation in Avondale, Arizona.(Source: Michelle Minahen/Cronkite News) Construction at the raceway is being done in phases so that it can still host events throughout the renovation in Avondale, Arizona.(Source: Michelle Minahen/Cronkite News)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives onto the track for his last prerace practice ever at the Can-Am 500 at the Phoenix Raceway in November. (Source: Michelle Minahen/Cronkite News) Dale Earnhardt Jr. drives onto the track for his last prerace practice ever at the Can-Am 500 at the Phoenix Raceway in November. (Source: Michelle Minahen/Cronkite News)

By Kara Carlson, Cronkite News

AVONDALE (Cronkite) — Big changes are in the works at Phoenix Raceway. On top of its massive renovation, the track announced in September that it has signed ISM Connect as its naming rights partner and will become ISM Raceway in 2018, the first time in the track’s history that it has sold such rights.

“It feels like we have already been getting more calls since the renovation announcement and then more again from the ISM deal announcement,” said Adam Zubiate, a Phoenix Raceway account executive. “People have tons of questions and just seem really excited about all of it.”

[RELATED: PIR to become ISM Raceway]

The first portion of the $178 million renovation was completed just in time for November’s Can-Am 500. This marks the first renovation since its opening more than 50 years ago.

The completed portions to date include 33 suites, which provide an open kitchen and bar area, and the “Curve” hospitality suite where up to 300 tickets are available for individual sale. The Curve sits six stories above the track and provides a panoramic view of the racing and the Valley.

[RELATED: New Curve luxury club at PIR is 'where Disneyland meets NASCAR']

“The whole stadium is going through an incredible transformation,” said track President Bryan Sperber in a September interview. “It’s going to impact our grandstands with new seats and elevators and escalators. What it means for fans is convenience and comfort. The individual seats have cup holders and are wider and just better.”

Renovations will also add a brand new tunnel and midway in the center of the track. Sperber called the fan experience in centerfield “Disney meets NASCAR” and said he thinks it will give fans a behind-the-scenes look at race-day operations in the garages and for the drivers. This will give fans new opportunities to interact with the teams on race day.

Part of September’s renaming announcement was the introduction of ISM’s 360° Connect network, which “will provide the modernized venue with advanced, robust technology and data capabilities.”

This will make it the first motorsports facility with free wifi throughout the venue. Organizers plan to enhance the live experience through digital display screens, innovative social media and a raceway app that will include in-seat ordering.

[20 Cities in 20 Days: Big changes coming to PIR]

[SLIDESHOW: Big changes coming to PIR]

[RELATED: Phoenix Raceway lifts veil on huge race track redevelopment]

The renovations and transition of the track to ISM Raceway are intended to provide benefits to fans, drivers and the surrounding community. For drivers, one of the main changes will be garage improvements.

Additionally, the start/finish line moves to the Phoenix Raceway signature turn, the dogleg, which will be a big change for drivers as well as fans. This means drivers will have to make the decision to stay on the track or to dive bomb, which essentially means to cut drivers off and maneuver from the outside lane to the inside and try to cut the corner.

“That’s always been one of the most exciting turns in all of NASCAR and by moving the start/ finish line there we just added a lot of high octane to what’s already a chaotic turn,” Sperber said.

The restart zone will also be located in a turn now. This means drivers will get the green flag in an even more stacked manner than usual and be forced to get heavy on the gas while hitting a turn. This move also brings the restart zone to a shaded portion of the track for fans and closer to the parking lot for added convenience.

[MORE: New pedestrian tunnel coming to Phoenix Raceway]

[AND THIS: Clubs, escalators, high-end fan experiences highlight PIR renovations]

These renovations also mean the entire facility is now able to be rented out for sporting events, musical festivals and other live events. Sperber said they have already signed a few events for this coming year and plan on many more. He would not comment on what those would be.

For some longtime Avondale community members, however, these changes are not so easy to digest.

“It will always be Phoenix Raceway to me. Nothing can change that,” said Avondale resident and NASCAR fan Ann Catlin. She said for families like hers, which comes to the track often, this change is not exciting or welcomed.

With the $178 million investment coming from Florida-based parent company International Speedway Corp. — which also owns tracks such as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway — Phoenix Raceway officials are sure there will be an economic benefit to the Valley.

“It’s a huge, huge economic win for our state and Gov. (Doug) Ducey and all of us in Arizona,” Sperber said.

Ducey said at an October press conference the transition to ISM Raceway will mean great things for the Valley. The governor emphasized this is the next era of racing.

Arizona has been a hub for sporting entertainment in the last three years, hosting the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl, the college football national championship and the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball tournament, which reportedly brought in $1.3 billion in economic activity. Add to this baseball’s spring training, the Waste Management Open golf tournament and others, and Ducey noted the ISM Raceway renovations will significantly add to the Valley’s lucrative sports industry.

“This is an exciting and significant investment for the state of Arizona, it will make us the premier destination for these epic sporting events,” Ducey said. He regards it as a point of pride for the state.

Sperber said making the raceway a world-class sporting venue will ensure and enhance the economic growth and give a platform that will attract new events to the state.

The grand reopening of the raceway is expected in November 2018.


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